Divisive is NOT a Four-Letter Word

There is a word that causes me to cringe each time I hear it spoken by a leader in the Catholic Church: Divisive.

That isn’t because I dislike people who are divisive. No, it is because when leaders in the Church say a person is divisive, they  seem to suggest this is the worst thing you can say about someone. And I think being divisive can be a wonderful act of faith.

In recent days, several Catholic priests have been reprimanded by their pastors or bishops for proclaiming how important it is for Catholics to vote for pro-life politicians in the upcoming national elections. Some of these priests have engaged in the “divisive” act of suggesting a Catholic should not vote for a politican of a political party that ardently supports abortion.

Apparently, a priest telling his congregation not to vote for people who promote abortion is upsetting to some folks in the pews. And they probably call or email the bishop and complain. The bishop believes he must “correct” the priest to preserve unity.

In other words, the priest has committed the ultimate sin: he has been divisive.

So what? The Catholic Church has a long tradition of divisive people who became Saints.

The Apostles were a truly divisive bunch. The New Testament is a litany of their troublemaking, disobedience to authority, and proclamation of the truth. In return, all but one died a horrible death.

Catherine of Siena had the habit of telling the Pope what to do. Mother Teresa of Calcutta told the US President he shouldn’t support abortion. These two great women believed the truth was a higher good than “getting along.”

In the world of politics, you likely could find no more divisive people than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  The first helped found the nation by dividing it from England; the second kept the young nation from dividing into two.

Washington would have been less divisive if he had simply told the colonists to stop complaining and do whatever King George wanted. Lincoln would have been less divisive had he just told the southern states that is was OK if they wanted to have slaves.

Martin Luther King Jr. certainly was devisive. And you don’t have to be Christian to be divisive; Ghandi proved that.

Avoiding “divisiveness” is not the end objective of the Christian faith. We seek eternal salvation through the truth, Jesus Christ. The faith should be presented in as “pastoral” a voice as possible – but the truth must be told, and some people are going to have sore ears.

The only way to have “unity” in a congregation is for everyone to think just as they please and everyone else to tolerate whatever lunacy is proclaimed.  But such acceptance denies the existence of objective truth.

A schoolteacher could avoid all conflict in the classroom by accepting what answer a student gives on a math test and giving every student an “A”. But who would go to a bank where the employees didn’t accept the basic truths of arithmetic.  Two plus two really does equal four – not whatever some child says it equals.

In like manner, the Catholic Church teaches what is truth. Paul has important words about divisiveness.

[16] Salute one another with an holy kiss. All the churches of Christ salute you. [17] Now I beseech you, brethren, to mark them who make dissensions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them. – Romans 16:16-17

The key phrase here is that the offences are contrary to doctrine. Someone who proclaims the truth is not being divisive but brave.

Of course, Christ was rather divisive himself. And he made no apologies for that.

[51] Think ye, that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, no; but separation. [52] For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three. [53] The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against his father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother, the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. – Luke 12:51-53

Many Catholics rationalize twist themselves into knots in an effort to justify a vote for pro-abortion politicians and demand that priests sit silent while this scandal persists. They might want to consider an important line in the creed we recite at Mass on Sunday:

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.

I’m sure that when I am judged the Lord will be more interested in how I proclaimed the faith than whether the next guy in the pew liked me.

NOTE: Gospel passages taken from Douay-Rheims Bible.

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